This will be the final part of my Real Wine Fair 2019 coverage. Here we have a few North American producers of the highest order, a couple of very fine Friulians, and an inspirational trio of Sicilians, nine producers in all. If you have not yet looked at my previous two articles you will find Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.
Before hitting the last nine winemakers I would like to make one observation. As I reflect on Real Wine 2019 I realise just what a wonderful event it is and has become, and how much we all missed it last year. And of course it’s not just two days. We are in Real Wine Month, and events are still going on all over the UK. One very famous and senior wine writer commented on the sheer joy of the event, and most of the producers did seem to be enjoying themselves as much as the visitors. I was tasting some of the most exciting wines available in the UK. Not the poshest, not the most expensive, but absolutely the most exciting.
La Garagista Farm (Vermont, USA)
Talking of excitement, Deirdre Heekin and Caleb Barber must surely run one of the most exciting wineries on the planet, and the beautiful thing is that you can laugh in the face of those of a more conservative bent as you enjoy their wines all made from North American hybrid vines. If Real Wine is about exciting wines, and wines of purity, then there are none more so than those created by Deirdre and Caleb.
La Garagista Farm is located on Mount Hunger, in Barnard, Vermont. It’s a mixed farm. The aim is to look after the land so it looks after them and the community. They use permaculture, organics and biodynamics to achieve this, but Vermont, with its cold winters, is not the easiest place to grow vines. This is why they have nurtured the local hybrids developed at the University of Minnesota. Most of the winemaking is carried out in open-top fibreglass vats, and most varieties undergo some kind of skin contact.
Grace and Favour 2017 This is a petnat which I’ve written about before, but briefly, the name comes by way of the grape variety’s history – La Crescent is descended from the large Muscat d’Ambourg vine at Hampton Court, Henry VIII’s palace outside London, where apartments were given to Royal favourites and Ladies in Waiting as “Grace and Favour”, a tradition which still continues today.
The wine is so bright and fresh, like well chilled sparkling mineral water, though the bouquet is sweet fruited. The acidity is breathtaking, yet the wine is in perfect balance. It’s actually one of the finest (in more than one sense) petnats you can buy…if available. I’m not sure why but the 2018s, which we were meant to taste at the Fair, were stuck in customs. so hopefully they will be with Les Caves de Pyrene soon.
Ci Confonde Rosé 2017 is a pink petnat. I say pink, but the colour is more of a beautiful bronze. The variety is Frontignac Gris and it smells like a dry version of Irn Bru (I apologise to non-British readers who may not have the first idea what I’m talking about). It’s grown on clay with a lot of limestone and is quite ferrous, fizzy and fresh, which I guess is what you need from a petnat.
Lupo in Boca Rosé 2017 is also from Frontignac Gris, exactly the same juice as Ci Confonde but a different vinification. Some grapes went in as whole clusters, some were destemmed and fermented on skins. The result is a wine with quite an ethereal bouquet, but also brooding. Alongside the fruit I detected the merest hint of caramel.
Loup d’Or 2016 Probably 90% of people at the Fair will never have tasted a wine made from Brianna before. I believe this wine is made in glass demijohn. You get fresh pear and more exotic fruits, and there’s a real Muscat quality (interesting because I read that Muscat and Grenache Blanc figure in Brianna’s past). All the above suggests richness, which there undoubtedly is, yet there’s also zippy acidity which helps the wine slip down (were I not spitting, of course). Its mere 12% alcohol helps.
Damjeanne 2016 Marquette is the hybrid vine base for this red wine. You can tell it’s a hybrid. I think that slightly foxy quality shows more in the reds than whites on my palate. But I love it. The fruit sits on two levels, enormous and concentrated cherry on the base, with fresher pomegranate sitting on top. It only reaches 12.5% abv, but that helps it to retain freshness. The wine has real presence.
Sadly there was no Stolen Roses Petnat Cider to taste, because cider is another speciality of the farm. La Garagista is an amazing project run by two great individuals, although many people, probably among those reading this, won’t thank me for making that more widely known.
Caleb with his wines whilst Deirdre was off tasting
Kelley Fox Wines (Oregon, USA)
Kelley is totally focused. She strives for perfection in her wines, and despite strong competition I truly believe she is making some of the very finest Pinot Noir in North America, from her base in the Dundee Hills. Of course she has great vine material, particularly in two heritage sites, Maresh Vineyard in the Dundee Hills and Momtazi Vineyard at McMinnville. Viticulture and winemaking are biodynamic, and the vines are all dry-farmed, no irrigation. It may have been Doug Wregg who called these wines “silent living songs”. Such a beautiful, and apt, description.
Maresh Pinot Gris 2017 This wine, and the Pinot Blanc which follows, are not (in Kelley’s eyes) what she is really about. But I would argue, respectfully of course, that to a degree she’s wrong, because both are basically so damned good, and individual wines with real personalities. The bouquet on this PG is a little tropical and there’s an unusual buttery texture on the finish, but it is user friendly and, above all, joyful. Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc 2017 is just nicely fruity, but then a friend commented later how good Kelley’s Pinot Blanc was. It’s a wine that still gets noticed among the Pinots which follow.
Mirabei Pinot Noir 2017 is a barrel selection across all blocks. It strikes as pale and light but Kelley says it puts on weight as it ages, and like all of Kelley’s wines, it is a wine to keep. But with that delicate lightness of being, I thought it is actually delicious now. I shall try to keep mine, but it will be hard. It has such a lovely label too.
Hyland Pinot Noir 2017 is from a new vineyard. There’s high-toned cherry fruit on the nose and the palate has slightly sour cherry with a grippy, savoury/bitter finish (but sour fruit, not stems).
Momtazi Pinot Noir 2016 Has a slightly darker colour and is a bit more tannic right now. The vines are on hard bassalt, close to the ocean, and the structure here is perhaps to be expected. However, the wine still has an elegance and that quality of being light on its feet.
Maresh Pinot Noir 2017 There’s a step up in price here of more than 25% for the wine from this old vine (planted 1970) site on its own roots. It’s characteristically pale, almost transparent at the moment, assisted by the fact that 2017 in Kelley’s sites was a welcome cooler vintage. Serious strawberry fruit dominates, with spice towards the finish. It’s just so wonderfully elegant and, although very expensive in some ways, clearly great value for the quality this will show when mature (in ten or fifteen years, at a guess).
Ruth Lewandowski (California and Utah, USA)
Evan Lewandowski named his winery after his favourite book in the Bible, but his winemaking is, might I suggest, even more inspired. I believe his line of thought was about the acceptance of outsiders, but also very much the cycle of birth, life, death and redemption. These are completely natural wines, no additives. Evan has planted vines on Utah’s pebbly and rocky sandstone soils, convinced that great wines are possible. But whilst he awaits their maturity he is also able to truck from California to his Utah winery, to provide the materials for the label in the meantime.
Elimelech Riesling Cuvée Zero 2017 is packed with great fruit and freshness with a distinct savoury quality. The grapes are from Mendocino and there’s a lovely line of vibrant citrus through this, set off with herbal hints.
Naomi White Cuvée Zero 2017 is 11.5% Grenache Gris from Gibson Ranch in Mendocino’s McDowell Valley. It’s whole bunches into egg fermenters here. The wine is at first floral and then reminiscent of ripe peach on the nose, with stone fruit and a waxy texture on the palate. Exquisite.
Mahlon 2017 Lowell Stone planted a host of Italian varieties in California (near to Hopland, again in Mendocino, close to Russian River), and this Arneis comes from his family’s Fox Hill Vineyard. It has a lot in common with the Piemontese version. Fermentation was in what for shorthand we can call plastic eggs. It is very refreshing, just 12.7% abv. You get florality, spice and orchard fruits, a lightness but with real personality.
Chilion 2017 Cuvée Zero could be my favourite wine here. It’s also from Fox Hill, but Cortese here, the white grape of Southeastern Piemonte and Gavi. It is made in a mix of plastic egg and old barrique, skin contact lasting six months. It’s an amazing wine because there are so many levels to it. There’s the pear/apple/quince and stony mineral element, then the candied orange peel (the “orange wine” bit), and also a sort of creaminess too. Not sure where that comes from, though it does go through malolactic. The alcohol on the 2017 comes in at 13.1%.
All the Cuvée Zero wines signify nothing has been added. Other wines just have minimal sulphur.
Feints 2018 is a wine I’ve had a few times in earlier vintages. This is a blend of Arneis, Dolcetto, Barbera and Nebbiolo, all from Fox Hill once more. Is it really a “red”? Who cares. It’s very pale, the fruit has a ripe sweetness but the acidity is crisp. Chilled, this is a delicious vin de soif at just 12% alcohol. It’s so moreish you can drink it like fruit juice. If you love stuff like Claus’ Puszta Libre, or Jutta’s Rakete, try this.
Boaz Red Cuvée Zero 2016 Has a different feel altogether. There is about 80%+ Carignan here, with close to equal parts of Grenache, then Cabernet Sauvignon. Although the grapes are not Italian, the Testa Vineyard was planted by Italian immigrants Gaetano and Maria Testa in 1912, at Calpella (also on Mendocino’s Russian River, six miles north of Ukiah). This is a glass-stainer of a red, the fruit (from the very old vine Carignan) is concentrated and there’s tannin aplenty too. Evan suggests pairing it with either duck cassoulet or lamb tagine, both of which I agree with enthusiastically. Bring it on.
Martha Stoumen (California, USA)
Martha is a brilliant winemaker who leases vineyards in Northern California, liking to work alone creating biodiversity in the vines and natural wines of real beauty. I met Martha back in 2017, but she was not on her table when I went to taste the wines at Real Wine 2019.
All of Martha’s wines have a lightness to them, perhaps exemplified by the name of one of her cuvées: Varietally Incorrect Zinfandel. My favourite wine from her stable remains Post Flirtation Red, the 2016 vintage of which I managed to find several bottles from a couple of sources. The new 2017 vintage seems darker than the previous one. The blend is 55% Zinfandel and 45% Carignan, which I think was the other way around in 2016. It also has a little more grip than the 2016, but it does retain that wonderful lightness and smoothness of fruit, a wine that screams that it is alive through its vibrancy.
Dario Prinčič (Friuli, Italy)
Dario was strongly influenced by Stanko Radikon, who was one of the group who became close friends with, and were mentored by, Josko Gravner. It was Stanko who encouraged him to begin making macerated wines at the end of the 1990s. Dario is based in Oslavia, in the Gorizia Province of Friuli, close to the border with Slovenia, where he farms ten hectares of vines on steep hillsides. The soils here are the famous friable limestone marls with clay and sandstone. Fermentations are in a mixture of large oak and chestnut casks, with ageing (for up to two years) in a wide mixture of oak casks and barrels. Dario’s niece, Katia Ceolien, was there to take us through the wines.
Bianco Trebez 2014 blends Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc macerated for 15 days, with Pinot Gris which sees just five days on skins. The fermentation is then completed with all three varieties in large oak. The colour is golden, the wine rich and smooth, and slightly smoky.
Ribolla Gialla 2016 is the most macerated of the Prinčič cuvées, 35 days on skins. The variety’s skin is so thick that it requires this long. Nevertheless, the wine has bags of texture and structure, yet remains astonishingly fresh. The citrus acidity has real zest to it, and this lays over a palate of more exotic and tropical fruits. It has great length which really goes on forever.
Bianco Jakot 2016 is the thinly disguised “Tokay Friulano” variety which was forced to lose its “Tokay” part due to Hungarian lobbying in Brussels. The disguise is the only thing about this wine which is manipulated. With 22 days maceration, it has a deep golden colour and deeper, darker tones beneath a fresh exterior. In other words, it’s long and very complex, even though it’s still a baby. 2016 was a brilliant vintage here, and this exceptional wine has a great future.
Pinot Grigio 2016 is actually going to be released under the name Sivi. It’s Slovenian for “spicy”. The Italian wine authorities don’t like the idea of a wine like this going under the varietal name. It’s not remotely bland enough for them. It only sees eight days on skins, but the colour is still erring towards a pinkish mahogany on account of the colour pigment in the grapes. No temperature control is used so the temperature gets quite high in fermentation, and they prefer a fairly quick extraction. The wine itself is rather delicate in some respects, surprising as there is 14% alcohol here. Then, after a bit of time in the mouth, the structure and concentration kicks in. It’s unique.
Merlot 2007 is not a wine that is made every year at Prinčič. They only farm a little bit of Merlot, less than 10% of their production being red wine, but it does give them the opportunity to make a red (they also had some Cabernet Sauvignon for many years but they grubbed it up). The vintage reflects the fact that this had very long ageing, nine years, in French barrique (not new, but 3-year-old wood). There’s just so much depth to this wine. You can really tell it’s Merlot, young and fresh Merlot at that, remarkably, for a very nearly twelve year old wine. The acidity is plentiful, and it doesn’t taste low in alcohol either. But the bouquet does show a little maturity, and although there are ripe tannins, the palate shows velvet fruit, rather like a very fine Pomerol…though of course it is no copy. It’s a beautiful example of this particular Friulian terroir.
Zidarich (Friuli, Italy)
Benjamin Zidarich’s wines are emblematic of Carso. The village of Prepotto is in fact near the town of Duino Aurisina. We are on that strip of land south of Gorizia that leads down to the city of Trieste. The soils in the Zidarich vineyards are on limestone, but are in fact red and iron rich, the vines planted on terraces originally reclaimed from forest. The white grapes are mostly Vitovska and Malvasia, and the wines are made using skin contact. There is Teran planted too (aka Terrano, a red grape from the Refosco family). Most of the region is famous for its rough, hard, limestone, and Zidarich is one of several local domaines whose cellars have been excavated from the rock.
Limestone vat (photo credit © Zidarich). See the “Kamen” Cuvée, below
Carso Vitovska 2016 is a deep and savoury wine off the Karst (limestone) rock on that border near Trieste. Two weeks on skins in large wood to ferment, and then two years in bottle results in a wine with incredible umami flavours.
Malvasia 2016 is also from that same wonderful Carso vintage which has provided some of the best wines of the decade so far. The vinification is similar to the Vitovska but this is more pear-like with a strong mineral core. In fact it seems to get more mineral as you taste it, finishing textured and with a bitter twist.
Carso Teran-Terrano 2016 Terrano is from the Refosco family. It’s a deep purple red, a genuine Highway Star, with lifted bitter cherry on the nose. In this case we get a month on skins and two years in oak and the result is big and juicy.
Vitovska “Kamen” 2016 This is the wine vinified in the stone vat pictured above. After one month on skins in limestone the texture even comes through in the bouquet, which is almost brutal. But both on the nose and on the palate this is balanced by really amazing freshness and something akin to red iron, from the iron-rich soil on which the vines for this cuvée grow. Kamen is a unique, fine wine, and a singular expression of this amazing terroir.
Arianna Occhipinti (Sicily, Italy)
We move from Italy’s north to her extreme south, and to be precise, to Fossa di Lupo in Vittoria (Sicily), made famous by other members of the Occhipinti family. Arianna farms largely red varieties, Frappato and Nero d’Avola, but her ten hectares do include a single hectare of white Muscato (sic) and Albanello. These are terroir wines, the red sandy soils giving great freshness. Although the daytime temperature soars in summer, nights are cool, giving the diurnal variations needed to make elegant wines. I didn’t taste the “SP” wines this time, going straight for two reds before hitting the three Single Contrada wines, which I must say are stunning (if pricey).
Frappato 2016 is a blend of vineyards and it has that lightness and lovely ripe red fruit that we now come to expect from the variety. Imagine a cream scone with strawberry jam, except it’s dry, of course.
Il Siccagno 2016 is Nero d’Avola. It is in that fresher style I prefer, and only 12% abv. It’s a blend of fruit and without doubt one of the nicest varietal Nero d’Avola from Eastern Sicily.
Fossa di Lupo 2016 is the first of the Single Contrada, single varietal, Frappatos. These three wines are all new releases from the 2016 vintage, and so it was my first time tasting them. This wine comes from younger vines with an average age of around 15 years. The soils here are about 40 cm of sand over hard white limestone. You can see the step up in quality. The Frappato is still vibrant, obviously influenced by the limestone, but there’s more depth than the straight Frappato, in fact quite a bit more.
Bombolieri 2016 is totally different terroir. There is about 15 cm of white clay over white limestone, and the rock pushes up through the soil in some parts of the vineyard. The vines are a little older, averaging 25 years, and the main step change with this wine lies in fruit concentration.
Pettineo 2016 has the oldest vines of the three, 58-year-old bush vines. The layer of sand in this vineyard is down to around 7 cm, and the underlying rock is softer Tufa. The wine is maybe a little darker, with smooth fruit assisted by very ripe tannins.
Which was my favourite of the three? Very hard to say because they are all wonderful. Pettineo is stunning, perhaps more serious (maybe on account of the old vines). Fossa di Lupo‘s freshness appealed a lot, but I loved the personality of the Bombolieri, which if pushed would be my very personal choice. But one feels that Arianna is right at the top of her game here.
I Vigneri/Salvo Foti (Sicily, Italy)
Here we are in the presence of one of Etna’s true stars. Actually, Simone took me through the wines, but his father was on hand to contribute a few comments. Salvo is perhaps the man most responsible in helping to revive Etna’s viticulture over the past fifteen years, with not only new plantings of traditional varieties, but also rescuing old vineyards. What were once seen as worthless hillside vineyards are now prized and envied in, it seems, equal measure. But Salvo forges on, using traditional methods and with a passion for the beauty he is lucky enough to have around him. He works with a consortium of growers (I Vigneri) to bring to life the magic mountain through his wines.
Vigna Aurora 2018 is a white blend of Carricante and the lesser known Minnella. The vines are at around 850 metres altitude, and that adds to the freshness of the wine. It’s a singular, fine, white just bottled but exuding a liveliness which Sicilian whites don’t always display to quite this level. As a starting point for tasting Foti’s wines, it switches on the light bulb.
Vigna di Milo Carricante 2015 is quite different. It is 100% Carricante which is fermented in large wood, aged in different barrels (still old wood) for six months, and then allowed a year in bottle before release. It has real texture and (with apologies to those who hate the word) minerality. It’s that mixture of stony texture and salinity, with a little more savouriness than the first wine.
Vinudilice Rosato 2017 comes from the same vineyard as the final wine below (the Spumante). The colour is immediately attractive. The bouquet is actually more reminiscent of apples and orchard fruits than anything else. It is refreshing and summery. It’s not your average cheap rosé at all, but a wine for people who can take the genre seriously (though it’s a fun wine, not trying to be clever or anything).
Rosso IGT 2018 is a deep and concentrated Etna red which blends the two most traditional of the Etna grape varieties, Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio. It’s not a heavy wine, though. As with all the Foti wines, there’s elegance, which I think is their key to greatness. They seem effortless, and the fruit is so alive. I often wonder how some winemakers achieve this whilst others don’t (we all know some Etna reds can err towards the ponderous). I think some winemakers just know when to do nothing and let the wine make itself, without additives, of course.
Vinupetra Rosso 2016 is also made from the two Nerellos, but with some added Grenache here. The fruit is so exquisitely concentrated. The fruit is all plum and cherry, but there’s spice too, and just a little dash of creaminess. We haven’t mentioned the volcanic soils yet. I suppose it’s self evident that this is what we are working with but I should point out, and this wine demonstrates the point well, that whilst we have all this prominent fruit, which here is so concentrated it’s almost sweet, we also have a certain structure to the red wines, which the terroir provides.
Vinudilice Spumante Brut 2015 is in many ways a remarkable wine. Don’t dismiss it because of its bubbles. This is a field blend of ten varieties, both white and red, all co-planted together at 1,300 metres altitude. It falls within the Etna Rosso DOC, though you’d call it a Sparkling Rosé, made by the classic bottle fermentation method. It may not have enormous complexity but it does have such beautiful and elegant strawberry fruit, with perhaps a touch of cranberry. I think it has a tiny production, but like all of Salvo’s wines, it is genuinely, heart-stoppingly, lovely.
Vino di Anna (Sicily, Italy)
Anna Martens and her partner Eric Narioo (who is, of course, a founder of Les Caves de Pyrene) make wine from organically farmed vines on the northern slopes of Etna. The vineyards are old bush vines of around sixty to one hundred years old, all at between 750 to 900 metres up the mountain. Many are fermented in their traditional, 250-year-old, palmento (the traditional stone troughs used for treading the grapes, and incidentally Palmento is the name of a very interesting book by Robert Camuto about Sicily and its winemakers (Univ of Nebraska Press 2010)). Palmento is also the cuvée name of some of the wines Anna makes.
Palmento Bianco 2018 is a field blend of autochthonous varieties, harvested usually in September. Most of the grapes are whole bunch fermented in stainless steel, with the exception of the Grecanico, which is macerated for a week on its skins. It is neither fined, nor filtered. You end up with a fresh, stony white with a very nice little bit of texture.
Jeudi 15 Rosato 2018 is a pink wine made from Nerello Mascalese blended with some white grapes, Catarratto and Inzolia. The result is a 12% stunner with a deep rosé colour the French would probably call clairet, and pure red strawberry fruit. It saw six months in qvevri and then a further month in stainless steel.
Palmento Rosso 2018 is 90% Nerello Mascalese with some Nerello Cappuccio and Alicante plus a few white varieties. It sees a five day maceration with ageing in a mix of qvevri, stainless steel and old cask for six months, before it is all blended in stainless steel. This was only bottled the week before the Fair, but it was not showing any signs of bottle shock, a wine with just amazingly fresh cherry fruit and a pleasantly low 12.5% alcohol.
Etna Rosso Jeudi 15 2017 The vineyard, at Monte La Guardia, is at 800 metres altitude and it shows in the wine. This time we have 95% Nerello Mascalese from very old bush vines. The grapes are 70% destemmed by hand, the rest going in as whole bunches with stems. When I say “going in”, here it is half into stainless steel and the other 50% into old wood. The colour is a glowing crimson red, and the fruit is a real blend of every red berry you can imagine. But it also has great fruit acidity, some grip and tannin. It does want to rest a bit, but I’m pretty sure it will be amazing.
Qvevri Don Alfio 2016 comes from another very old vineyard (up to 100-year-old vines) at 900 metres, at Rovitello, the source of one of my first ever Etna wines from Benanti very many years ago. This particular vineyard is small, just six tenths of a hectare on very ancient terraces built into black volcanic rock. This is just made from Nerello Mascalese (95%) and Nerello Cappuccio, which is all hand-destemmed into three buried Georgian qvevri to ferment with around a two-month maceration, before spending a further year ageing in a single large qvevri. The beauty of this wine is that it combined floral scents, and deeper notes of morello cherry with acidity, texture and tannins. The terracotta clay vessel enhances the volcanic terroir of Etna without dominating. It’s a very well judged cuvée.
And that is it. I’ve by no means been able to give anywhere near an exhaustive review of Real Wine 2019, but I hope that my snapshot has at least been well chosen. As always, this event gets a massive number of readers, showing just how interested wine lovers are in wines which, as I said in my opening paragraph, put excitement over poshness and points. I hope it was as successful for all the producer attendees as it was for the trade, press and public who turned out to taste. We’d be a lot poorer for wine, if less poor in the pocket, without the Real Wine Fair.